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Maple (Mountain Maple)
Acer pseudoplatanus
Origin and Usage
From the 3 indigenous types of maple, the mountain maple has the best qualities that are needed in the manufacture of music instruments. The acer pseudoplatanus (the botanical name for the tree) with 5 fingered leaves and the golden yellow autumn colour, grows in the mountain forests of Northern Spain to Caucasus, from northern Italy and Yugoslavia to the Harz mountains in Germany at height of over 800 metres.
The brightly coloured maple wood has since time immemorial been highly valued in its usage as a wood for furniture, also as a veneer and in its natural form in interior building work. In addition Maple is used extensively in the household and kitchen. Generally maple is the preferred choice of wood turners, woodcarvers and wood sculptors. In the manufacture of music instruments there are two traditional areas of usage: the stringed and plucked instruments with their backs, sides, necks and bridges and the woodwind instruments, particularly the bassoon and the recorder.
Production, Ecology. The machining and processing
Larger, almost pure stocks of maple are found in the chalk alpine areas, but it is also to be found growing singularly or in groups in the middle to high locations. The maple is cared for and cultivated in normal forestry conditions apart from in Nature Reserves, where it is left to grow naturally. This means that suitable trees are chosen depending on their value. To ensure further production maple is planted, and of course also naturally seeds itself. Good forestry management means a diversity of tree types are planted enabling a balanced and stable tree-growing environment.
The Woodcutter specialising in seeking out the best maple trees for music instruments buys the logs direct from the forester. He organises the transport and cuts the suitable logs into squared timber which is the first step in the process to the further manufacture of the recorder and bassoon.
Attributes and characteristics of Maple
Maple has a fine texture, displaying a crème to almost white colour, which later darkens to a golden shade. The wood possesses a uniform and compact structure, and for use in woodwind instruments the mature pieces with close annual ring circles are chosen. Such pieces are of moderate to medium weight, but tough and dense. They are easy to work on, allowing clean cutting, turning and polishing. Furthermore maple has the necessary stability to withstand changing conditions of humidity. Mountain maple is also ideal for the absorption of oil or paraffin as a further prevention to adverse effects of excessive moisture and excellent results in staining; polishing, and varnishing are achievable on the outer surface. Its relatively lightweight makes it ideal for the manufacture of bassoons and the mountain maple wood aids in the production of a full bodied and mellow sound.
Bassoon making at Püchner house
The woodwind instrument maker obtains his wood from specialist importers and saw mills in the form of rough-cut square blocks. When cutting the blocks the saw worker takes careful account of the final dimensions of the instrument joints, in order to ensure the most efficient use of this valuable raw material.
Before the wood is laid out to be dried and seasoned the blocks are drilled with a longitudinal rough bore hole to assist more equal drying from within. The process of natural drying lasts a minimum of 18 years at Püchners, although the chosen period differs from firm to firm.
The working of the individual instrument only begins after the seasoning phase is complete. The wood sections are now turned, refined, polished and impregnated with linseed oil. Precision reproduction machines are now used to cut the toneholes and post-locating holes, and the mechanism is installed for the first time. After the keywork installation is completed it is all removed again. Once this is done the individual wood joints are fitted together to make a single instrument. Next follows the crucial work, the final turning of the interior bore, which is the soul of the instrument and which will authoritatively determine its quality.
The mechanism has meanwhile been polished and plated, and once fitted with impact-damping corks and leathers and provided with pads it is reinstalled for the final time.
After conclusive tuning, testing and voicing of the instrument, during which the requirements of the musician are always paramount, the bassoon is ready to be discovered by its eventual player.
We wish to thank Firma Nagel, Hamburg for their friendly help in providing parts of the above text and Graham Salvage and Jonathan A C Small for their translation into English.
Further reading: “Wood as raw material for musical instrument making”, Dr.Hans Georg Richter, Moeck Edition, Celle